DKK 7.28 million to explore the correlation between tax contributions and political priorities in Africa

Together with researchers from Uganda and Tanzania, researchers from Aarhus BSS aim to explore how the political priorities in Africa are affected by changes in the tax contributions of different groups. The project, which focuses specifically on Uganda and Tanzania, is supported by Danida.

2016.01.14 | Ingrid Marie Fossum

As African countries become less dependent on development aid, the countries’ own sources of income become increasingly important. But what influence do these tax payers have on the governments’ public policy  and on whether governments offer collective goods for the benefit of the people? These are some of the questions which researchers from Aarhus BSS are looking to answer. The researchers hypothesise that the ruling elite will tend to favour powerful revenue providers, while more disorganised consumers are likely to be less powerful with regard to policy impact.

“For example, the agricultural sector is characterised by low productivity and is hardly taxed at all in most African countries. Therefore it is rarely prioritised by the ruling elite,” says project manager, Anne Mette Kjær, associate professor in political science at Aarhus BSS. She has just received DKK 7.28 million from Danida for her project, which focuses on Tanzania and Uganda that both receive development aid from Denmark.

Who the taxpayers are will affect the political priorities of the state

During the past decade, a series of African countries have become less dependent on traditional development aid, since other sources of income have increased. At the same time, the political priorities have changed.

“Whereas poverty reduction and social service provision were highly prioritised around the turn of the millennium, focus is shifting towards infrastructure and industrial policy,” Anne Mette Kjær explains.

The researchers aim to explore how changes in the composition of revenue providers affect bargaining over the state funds and how they are spent. They want to explore in detail who the main revenue providers are and what these providers want in return. By doing so, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how this “return” is reflected in government priorities in Uganda and Tanzania specifically.

Development aid can be a hindrance

In countries with an abundance of natural resources, the ruling elite is less less inclined to promote national economic and social welfare, because they have no incentive to bargain with citizens.  Development aid has been argued to have similar effects, because it tends to make ruling elites accountable to their main aid donors rather than to their own populations.  The project may therefore contribute towards more targeted Danish development, trade and investment policies in the future.

“Declining aid dependence and more country ownership over policy are clearly desirable goals for the African countries. The result of our project will give Danish decision-makers a greater understanding of how a decreased aid dependence affects political negotiations in Africa,” says Anne Mette Kjær.

The research is also relevant for the political agenda in Uganda and Tanzania, as the collected knowledge may be applied by the countries’ governments, citizens, companies and civil society organisations to achieve more transparency in the tax contributions of different groups and what they get in return.

The project is entitled ”Political Settlements and Revenue Bargains in Africa: New Policy Priorities?” and will include a series of field studies in Uganda and Tanzania. It draws on researchers specialising in tax law, economy, political science and sociology, such as Rachel Beach, a PhD student in political science at Aarhus BSS, and researchers from Makerere University in Kampala and the research institution REPOA in Dar es Salaam.

Further info

Anne Mette Kjær, associate professor in political science
Aarhus BSS
+45 8716 5245 

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